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The former London managing partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius has defected to Winston & Strawn in order to spearhead the Chicago firm's much-anticipated move into the UK market.
As first revealed on www.thelawyer.com/lawyernews on 28 May, US-qualified securities expert Thomas Benz, who spent 16 years at Morgan Lewis's London office - six of which he served as managing partner - is taking Zoe Ashcroft, a UK-qualified business transaction partner, with him to jump-start the London office.
The Lawyer first reported last year (21 October 2002) that Winston & Strawn was planning to launch in London by December. It remains unclear why the firm has waited until now to make the move.
However, Benz said: "I am aware that [Winston & Strawn] has been searching for some time. I was approached by the firm about six weeks ago."
Benz and Ashcroft officially joined their new firm last week after confirming contracts about two weeks beforehand.
His first priority, said Benz, was to find office space for the new firm which will primarily focus on all areas of corporate, adding: "It is also significant that the office will have a US and a UK lawyer, both of whom have experience within an American firm."
Benz has spent much of his career in London, at Rogers & Wells, the US firm which merged with Clifford Chance in 2000, and then at Morgan Lewis which he joined in 1987.
As head of London, Benz said he and Ashcroft would work closely with Patrick Murray, corporate partner and head of Paris, on Winston & Strawn's European ambitions. The firm also has a small office in Geneva.
Benz stepped down as London managing partner at Morgan & Lewis in March 2002 to return to fee-earning. Peter Wallace relocated from the US to take over as managing partner in London.